Flamethrowers, poison gases, incendiary bombs, the large-scale spreading of disease...are these terrifying agents and implements of warfare modern inventions? Not by a long shot.
Weapons of biological and chemical warfare have been in use for thousands of years, and Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs, Adrienne Mayor's fascinating exploration of the origins of biological and unethical warfare, draws extraordinary connections between the mythical worlds of Hercules and the Trojan War, the accounts of Herodotus and Thucydides, and modern methods of war and terrorism.
©2008 Adrienne Mayor (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
"Illuminating... Adrienne Mayor marshals not just myth, but also the writing of ancient authors and evidence from archaeological digs to show that biological and chemical weapons saw action inbattles long before the modern era." (The New York Times)
The books flows quickly and is very interesting. If it were in print, I'd call it a page-turner. There's a lot of material about Greek gods and Greek mythology, but it seems necessary to put the actual history into context (or in fact, the reverse - the actual use of these weapons puts the mythology into perspective for the modern reader). It is amazing how brutal and unmerciful human beings can be to each other. And how much pain and suffering must have been endured in ancient times. I am surprised that none of the other histories of antiquity I've read mention these weapons. For that reason, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the period. It also provides a perspective from which to consider modern nasty weapons.
I have been bragging about this book to everyone. Excellent. Superb entertainment, plus its all true. The Scythian arrow poison sounded revolting and frightening. You will learn of vipers, water witches, neuro-toxin honey- there is no weakness in this book. Every single word feels vital. You get no filler, no slow spots, no long editorials. Every chapter is fascinating and enlightening. Flaming pigs! War elephants. Its the ultimate brainy MAN book, but I think anyone would enjoy it. A great war history, that may even appeal to those who don't normally like non-fiction. The narration is good. Lively and far from the monotone you often get in "heady" books.
I first discovered Adrienne's writing with First Fossil Hunters and when I saw this one available I was excited. She did not disappoint one bit. Her research is flawless and she ties it together very well.
My only sorrow is that the rest of her books are not available from Audible. Though I did discover today that The Poison King is now and downloaded as fast as I could. I hope they will go back and get her other 2 books on folk-lore and natural history.
I grew up on Golden Age Radio, and while I love to read, I typically consume more books via audio thanks to a job that lets me listen while I work. As an aspiring writer, I try to read a great deal of non-fiction in addition to a variety of fictional genres. I especially love history, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and old-style gothic horror.
It never ceases to amaze me just how creative the human race can be when it comes to killing ourselves. A book like this expands on any level of historical understanding of the ancient world, and as a well-written history book should do, it opens our eyes to those terrors of the past that we should not (but invariably do) repeat.
I think we've all heard of Greek fire and poison arrows. This book goes into great detail as to the effects of these things. But there are other weapons that I could not have expected. For example, one of many, how do you defeat war elephants? Apparently the answer is battlefield bacon: you light pigs on fire and let them loose in the hopes they actually run in the general direction of the elephants instead of into your own soldiers. This book outlines everything from how these varying arsenals worked to the dangers of self-inflicted blowback and beyond.
Anyone who loves history needs the experience of this book, as it will completely change the way you see ancient warfare. Anyone who enjoys historical fiction or fantasy, this book will probably add a particular edge to those tales as well. It's a grisly topic, fascinating from a scholarly perspective, and delivered in full reviling detail by the narrator in a way that sells it as effectively as a BBC News anchor.
I don't know which was more annoying: the book or its narrator.
First, the book. It is unbearably repetitious. The same events are described again and again. The author clearly does not believe that her readers have much in the way of an attention span. Moreover, whenever she cannot find evidence in the record for what she wants to say, she just guesses. Her "membership" in the "it could/should have happened" school of history is quite odd in a work first published by a distinguished academic press. Given the book's fundamentally interesting subject manner, this is a shame.
Second the narrator. Her breathless manner fits the book quite well. Avoid them both!
I like traveling, but I'm too poor, so I read instead.
This book is fascinating! It's entertaining and may teach you a thing or two, but I would recommend having at least a basic understanding of ancient history before stepping into this book. The author tends to jump around, following only a semblance of chronological order that often left me scratching my head to etch out the timeline. My only other issue was the repetitiveness of some anecdotes. As much as I love Heracles and his unfortunate life, I did not need to be reminded of the Hydra's poison again and again and again.
I would recommend this book to a friend who already has a good grip on history, or possibly one who really enjoys learning about the numerous ways humans have devised to horrible maim/ kill other humans. We are creative beings in our self destruction, like fireworks. Or decorative wedding cakes.
This may have been interesting in a 90-minute abridged version, but this is so long and so repetitive that I found myself skipping through parts to get through it.
Someone with insomnia or perhaps a prescription drug manufacturer for use as a control in sleep drug trials.
Not unless the alternative was imminent bodily harm.
The narrator should have taken a box of extremely potent laxatives prior to recording.
A desire to research laws regarding false advertising. The vast majority of the book covered the use of poison arrows, disease and poisoned food - not exactly revelations. While myth is certainly a metaphor for reality and can provide evidence of contemporaneous human practices, the book spends far too much time on mythical uses of unconventional weapons. Additionally, the writing quality is as abominable as the pestilences described in the book. I should have known it would be all downhill after hearing the author quote a lengthy video game review in the introduction as proof that this book is good. In fact the entire introduction is so horribly self-aggrandizing its the literary equivalent of the author soliciting votes for prom queen.
This book is a great insight into the horrors of war both past and present. It melds the historical accounts with the modern knowledge and gives the reader better understanding of the past and present.
I enjoyed this book very much.
"Very, very, very interesting"
This book is an excellent catalogue of every odd or underhand weapon you ever heard of and an awful lot you probably hadn't!
Wow your friends with amazing facts like scorpions have been know to glide on strong desert winds! Wow your mother-in-law with your knowledge of paralyzing honey (believe it or not - I did)! Sicken your wife with stories of the romans scaring elephants with flaming pigs (okay, I may be losing points here).
If you like history, weapons or historical weapons then you'll get a lot out of this book. Like I said, very, very, very interesting
"Does what it says on the tin"
With an interest in all things military I was looking forward to some unusual ancient weapons and, on the whole, I was not disappointed. The text moves along quite nicely, and frequently draws comparisons between ancient weapons and those of the 20th or 21st century. It also touches on mythological examples of such weapons, which makes sense as myths can illuminate the world in which they were written even though the story is fiction. The book tends to make the most of the material available, sometimes repeating something that was said a chapter or two ago, so it is sometimes rather more wordy than it needs to be, but not enough to seriously spoil the listening experience. Overall I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone with a particular interest in ancient warfare.
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